The Runstad Center’s Washington State Condominium Report was released today. MSRE student, Center researcher, and author of the report David Leon shares his thoughts…
The City of Seattle has been experiencing unprecedented population and economic growth over the last five years. As the city’s population has increased and the number of high-paying jobs has grown, prices for housing have increased significantly. Condominium development could provide an affordable in-city option for new housing. At present, condominiums are not being built in sufficient numbers to meet demand, and those that are being built are being sold at prices that are beyond the means of the average-income individual. Reasons for this dynamic include financing and capital markets, insurance coverage, and to some degree, legal liability for condominium developers. This paper examines the current state of the housing market in Seattle, focusing on construction of new condominiums, with comparisons to six other Western cities. The paper then examines elements of the Washington Condominium Act that may bear on the heightened liability for condominium builders, and suggests some options for reducing the liability, after comparison to four other states and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Changes to the Washington Condominium Act may be necessary but not sufficient conditions for the building of more affordable condominium units in Seattle. Financial incentives may be required to create the conditions for more affordable condominiums. For the market to be incentivized to build more affordable condominiums without public subsidy, economic opportunity for builders must offset the greater perceived risks and inefficiencies of smaller scale building through lower costs. Insurance costs and the risk of litigation are factors that, if mitigated, can contribute to tipping the scale toward the delivery of more affordable for-sale condominium product.
Sales price tranches for Seattle new condominium sales, 2010-2015.
The Center’s findings were discussed further with UW Today. Click here for the full report.
Several of our MSRE students recently visited San Francisco for the ULI Fall Meeting. David Leon shares his thoughts on the changes and challenges in that city, and how they compare to the ones we are facing here in Seattle. Thanks, David!
A former colleague once said to me Seattle reminded him of San Francisco 15 years ago. I find that there are many parallels: both cities are land-constrained, surrounded by beautiful scenery, tech-industry hubs, and are facing affordability and livability issues in housing as their growth cycles compound.
At the ULI Annual Conference earlier this month in San Francisco, both walking around and in conference sessions, I noticed many changes that may be coming to Seattle. San Francisco’s waterfront highway has already come down, and the industrial waterfront has been transformed into tourist, office, and retail space. Oakland, the blue-collar city across the bay, is now the regional shipping and industrial port. Seattle’s viaduct will be gone soon, and a similar transformation could happen here, with the seaports of Seattle and Tacoma recently combining.
San Francisco has long been facing the challenge of homelessness and housing affordability. I remember when I was in college in the late 1990’s walking along sections of Market Street where every alcove and doorway was occupied by somebody in their sleeping bag. This time, I saw only a few people sleeping on the street. Maybe they just moved to the park, but I also heard conference presenters talking about building micro-apartments downtown for formerly homeless people. One could hope that Seattle would adopt a similar solution in addition to, or rather than, supporting the open-air encampments that currently exist in various locations around town.
Micro units also seemed to be the path to greater affordability, with developer Patrick Kennedy of Panoramic Interests presenting on how both profitability and affordability improve when multi-family units are built smaller, with parking eliminated from buildings. Professor Carol Galante of U.C. Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innnovation presented on how trends show more and more people moving into urban centers, with rental units as the fastest growing segment of the housing market. This despite 70% of U.S. housing stock being single-family and zoned as such. Her prediction was for greater density in urban centers, and assisted by government intervention like reducing the mortgage interest deduction, or not taxing accessory dwelling units.
The most impressive project presented at the conference was the Transbay Transit Center. This is a massive effort to build out a multi-modal downtown transit center connecting the cities around the Bay Area via rapid transit, as well as the train to Los Angeles. The transit center features a shopping mall as well as a large park on top of the roof. The Transbay Joint Powers Authority was able to build with money from selling off surrounding land to developers, who are building what will be some of the largest office and multi-family buildings in the city, effectively extending the city’s skyline to the south of the Oakland Bay Bridge. The tallest of these structures, the Salesforce building, would be the tallest in the city.
Another noteworthy presentation included a case study of Twitter’s new headquarters at Market Square, a renovated space that transformed an older building to suit the needs of the new tech economy. And following up on that concept, several presenters invited us to imagine the future of a city that does not depend on workers going to any particular place to get work done, where nobody needs to own cars because cars would drive themselves and be available on demand, and where goods are bought and sold online in a global marketplace that need less retail spaces and more warehouses.
It was a very inspiring conference and a great trip. How these trends and ideas might come to Seattle will of course be a matter of current trends in affordability, as well as overall market forces. But ultimately any local transitions will be a test of whether there is sufficient popular will to move forward toward a denser, more transit-and-tech oriented city.
The Ferry Building
Breakfast with Runstad Center board members
View of Market Street and the palace hotel from NW ULI reception at One Kearny
We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil. Recently, Thaisa Way took us for a look at the yards and courtyards of Santiago. Here, she explores the idea of “commoning the community” in a favela, Vidigal in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
On the same day that Maiko, Kate, Jose, and I headed to the favela community of Vidigal, I read about the competition in London to find spaces that could be “commoned” as in making them collective social spaces in the urban fabric. This same idea is being envisioned within the favela of Vidigal as residents look to create collective action to create shared spaces in their urban landscape. It is noteworthy that the city of Rio and many in Brazil speak of urbanizing the slums as a means to bring city services of water, electricity, sewage and transportation to the communities. Commoning is another form of urbanization- building on the potential of shared spaces to build community in dense and underserved neighborhoods.
In Vidigal we met with architect Guto Grasien, who had grown up in the community and returned to live and to design for public good. With him was Maria (a dancer and choreographer) and Sebastian (VP for the Vidigal Community) as well as an artist and a film maker, all residents of the community. They showed us a small model roof garden that shaded a bus stop for residents. On the roof was a mixture of hay and soil that was used to grow medicinal and healing plants. The only irrigation is rain water. The roof garden, an idea that Guto initiated, was planned and planted with participants from the local public schools- 25 elementary students under the leadership of a few community members including Grassa, a healing/ medicine woman in the community. The plants are harvested by Grassa, who has with a few other women opened a small souvenir shop for all the foreigners touring the favela, and a small café upstairs that serves green juice – a healthy mixture of wheat grass, cabbage, celery, apples, and other greens. The idea is to introduce a healthy drink, easy to enjoy, as a means of introducing health and nutrition as a topic of discussion. Further the gardens introduce the idea of city nature as a beneficial and productive part of the urban fabric. Thus the roof garden, the store, the café, the garden all are a form of commoning.
The community, like most favelas in Rio, is on a very steep hillside- the flat lands by the bay and ocean are generally filled with more expensive housing, from middle to upper class housing and commercial strips- the beach itself a common landscape, open and used by the full public. Back to the favela- as they are on steep hillsides, while roads for cars, motorcycles, and infrastructure are useful, stairways are the primary shared circulation infrastructure- they wind between houses, roads, and views- yes precarious but also pragmatic, serving as critical contributors to the public realm.
Also there we were welcomed into a remarkable garden that was once a city site deemed to become an ecological park. However, the city abandoned the project and neighbors started to use it as a garbage dump. Other community members imagined doing the garden on their own and started to clean the area for garden beds. They creatively found materials to use including car and bike tires that were dug into the hillside to hold the soil in place and to provide planting beds. Plants are gathered from the nearby forests and hillsides and the place is a bit of paradise within the urban landscape. It was a respite, it was a place of hope and production- but it was even more a place where urban nature was expressed creatively, inspirationally, and poetically.
While many focus on the ways in which the city and state appear to have abandoned the poor in Brazil – and this is true when one considers the availability of clean water, sewage treatment, and many other basic services – what we saw and heard in Vidigal was also the resilience of communities to find ways to build a robust public realm. It was a good learning experience for us, as it is so much easier to just bemoan the irresponsible actions of government and leaders.
Washington state’s housing market was strong in the first quarter of 2015, with both sales and new building permits up compared with a year ago and the market remaining largely affordable, according to a new report from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research here at the Runstad Center. Housing affordability for all buyers statewide continued to rise in the first quarter; however, affordability varied widely across the state.
The Center’s findings were discussed further with UW Today.
Here’s a preview of the data, in our snapshot for Q1 2015. The full report, now available to subscribers, will be posted online when the third quarter report snapshot is released. If you’d like to become a subscriber, please contact email@example.com.
We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil. Recently, Thaisa Way explored the important role of public spaces in social housing. Here, she continues her exploration of the public realm with a look at the yards and courtyards of Santiago.
In a second scale of the public realm was the semi-private spaces of yards and courtyards. These spaces were found in university buildings such as the UDP School of Architecture where an interior courtyard beckoned one into the building from the street, and in the spaces between the social housing in one of the poorest neighborhoods in northeast Santiago. In the case of the former, the open-air courtyard and the access provided to a roof garden integrates out of door spaces for all in the community. These spaces were used for maker spaces, messy spaces, and socializing spaces. Of course this is easier in the climate of Santiago than a place like Seattle, but nonetheless the importance of finding ways to incorporate safe and welcoming out of door spaces in our buildings and neighborhoods seems worth the creative efforts it requires. It was the courtyards in the social housing that were a real source of inspiration- here in a community of extremely “efficient” housing, about 300 -600 sq feet per family, the out of door shared spaces provided a living room for the immediate families. In one that we visited roses, geraniums, and jasmine grew in neatly defined flower beds while the primary area was a swept yard, clean and welcoming. Talking with a resident it was obvious the courtyard was a source of pride and joy. It was not big, and it was shared with 12 households and yet it was a place where in the midst of a zone where gang fights were common and trash piles up on the streets, this clear, swept, flowered landscape was a respite and a shared resource.
A similar need for diverse out of door spaces throughout Santiago was met in multiple ways throughout the city creating a remarkable urban landscape. Along the now polluted river of Mapucho, there is a river promenade often expanding to become a full fledged park with playgrounds, fountains, and benches. On the ancient volcanic hills parks were built that allow one to see the city from above- some very formally such as San Cristobal, others more informally such as Castillo Hildago and St. Lucia. Eating out of doors is common throughout the city- whether on a terrace or spilling onto the sidewalk or picnicking in the park- drinking was allowed or at least tolerated as well making for a dynamic public comprised of young, old, active, contemplative, boisterous, and romantic. When the bicyclists and runners took over many of the broad streets on a Sunday morning, the old city could be experienced as a broad and generous urban landscape. Tree lined avenues marked the major boulevards while a diversity of street trees, flower boxes, and hedges added life and vitality to the smaller streets and pedestrian paths. On the latter, it was the generosity of the pedestrian spaces that also nurtured the public realm – whether the closed streets (what we call the pedestrian malls) or the passageways or the plazas, these landscapes encouraged the sharing city. Santiago was an impressive urban landscape – generally vibrant and yes messy, yes chaotic, and yes green and alive with a public realm just as dynamic.
We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil. Here, Thaisa Way explores the important role of public spaces in social housing.
As a landscape and urban historian, I was thrilled to serve this year as a 2015 Runstad Affiliate Fellow. This trip to Chile and Brazil l has offered the opportunity to explore the design, use, and changes in public landscapes as integral contributors to the urban landscape. I have tried to pay close attention to the ways in which the public realm is fostered or challenged by the spatial character of public landscapes from the street to the plaza, from the park to the courtyard, from the front stoop to the park bench.
When discussing social housing in most cities, more often than not the focus is on the architecture of the building, perhaps the quality of construction, and the amenities of the living areas, from electricity to internet. What works and doesn’t work is evaluated within these parameters of analysis. However, if one visits social housing as we did in Santiago Chile, the role of the public realm becomes critically evident. The public realm of streets and sidewalks as out of door shared spaces are the common living areas for many in the community. They are where informal economies happen, where socializing is enjoyed, and where community is built, over time and space. The quality of the space determines whether the space fosters community or deters it- by offering safe spaces, by responding and meeting the needs of community members, and by offering diversity of experience.
They can often determine whether a community can come together. And yet it is this same space that is often of least interest to those developing social housing. In the community we visited, I was glad to see that at least some basic infrastructure was provided from curbed sidewalks to minimal set back at corners to allow for small gatherings. Small parks were also defined on the ground although the amenities were few. In downtown Santiago the infrastructure was more robust- with wide sidewalks, many plazas, and a fair number of public gardens and parks- almost every one with a playground for children carefully and thoughtfully integrated into the space. There is space for vendors and other public events to occur and on Sunday our last day, I had the delight to see many of the main boulevards shut down to cars and taken over by bicycle riders and runners of all ages. The houses and apartments in Chile are small for those in the lower income levels as well as the middle class – an important point being that Chile may be the first country in America to house 100% of its residents – thus the public realm is important – as space to breathe and space for community.
We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil. Here, Maiko Winkler-Chin shares her love of good food – and what our dining spots say about the cities we live in, especially to those who visit.
People who know me would expect me to bring up food, as it’s a very important thing for me! During our travels, our days fell into a predictable pattern – learning, walking, eating, repeat. We are not big foodies, but we often discussed how and why – besides good food – we enjoyed eating at different places.
Here’s my rundown of memorable spots (and some tasty treats).
In Chile, our preference was eating outdoors – and we did it all the time, for almost every meal. It was a great way to reflect and absorb what we were learning, as well as try some local food and drink and watch the locals navigate their own city. Memorable spots….
Outside a small cafe next to a very well-used park near Santiago’s University District. We sat there drinking beers and snacking on pizza, reflecting on lessons of the day, comparing park layout and users in what we were seeing and what we normally see back in Seattle.
Enticed to explore a cobblestone alley that ran off a major boulevard (the primary east/west axis in Santiago), we found restaurants spilling into public space. Clarification – it was like an alley, if our alleys had sidewalks on both sides and trees. Whatever it’s called, it was really nice! While we were eating Italian food and ceviche, we heard a Maori haka – live entertainment! – and later learned that there was an exhibit at a nearby cultural center.
A courtyard tucked in between buildings – we walked thru a historic building to enter this place full of different food establishments. I could call it a food court, but it felt way nicer and more fun that that. We had lunch, and looked around at the variety of buildings – some historic, some modern, all one or two stories – surrounding this square, with the upper floors of the nearby University of Chile, its red roof peaking into view. (at the intersection of Calle Pio Nono and Calle Bellevista)
My favorite place of all – Cafe Mosqueto – more for its coffee than its design, outside along yet another alley-like passage – clearly they know how to use their alleys in Chile! The building was set back from the street, and the patio area in front was separated from the sidewalk by concrete planters; I don’t remember any covering in the front patio area, but I do remember enjoying the best cafe latte and good people watching. The street out front was “for residents only”, a quiet narrow alley that had a different surface than the main streets in the area. In fact, we snacked a few times on these narrow streets with different surfaces, and they were all quite lovely.
We were in Santiago in the fall, it was still very warm, and I wonder if they eat outside as often in the winter. We all wondered – could we have more outdoor seating in Seattle? Could we adjust to eating outside in colder, rainier weather? Would we? It was such a nice addition to the street life, I was in a real city. It did have its downsides – there was that seagull incident – but overall, I would take that chance again for that experience. And I am now looking for Chilean Carmenere – look beyond the Malbec, this variety is delicious!
In Brazil, there didn’t seem to be as many outdoor places – there was this place we went to twice because it was good and close by to where we were staying. It was pouring rain, but we ate under the awning, which had a thick hanging clear liner to keep the rain out. The place was packed, as the neighborhood was out watching their Botafogo neighborhood football team playing their adjacent neighborhood’s team on TV, drinking choppe of beer and eating roast pig. It also rained when we ate at a lovely Italian restaurant on Copacabana beach. There was an awning that I could tuck up under, so dinner saved. (La Fiorentina, Leme)
Kilo buffets were common. Grab a plate and pick up whatever you like – salads, roast meat, pasta entrees, rice and beans – and you pay by the fraction of the kilo. This should not be confused with the all-you-can-eat-meat places, more correctly called a churrascaria, where you often pay a flat fee. Good idea, but not one we could do too often. Nothing really notable here from a built environment sense, but it was definitely a place where people came together.
The place that led us to some long conversation – perhaps because it was raining so hard that we didn’t want to leave – was tucked behind an apartment entry and tattoo shop, with an entrance off something like an alley. BarBaran Ucrania is – as you can guess – a bar serving the sizable Ukrainian community in Curitiba, and the only place open at 4 pm on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Adults said hello to those they knew, grabbed drinks and snacks (fried balls of Portuguese salt cod or mashed potato/ham-like substance), and watched the football games being broadcast. Kids were there – some came in (with no adult) for ice cream treats, some sat with their parents at the bar, and some hung out in the corner with their teen friends. Great community vibe, and we reflected on how different US rules are about alcohol.
Wondering what ideas Seattle’s eating spots say about us as a city to our visitors…
We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who have just returned from their travels to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil.
Valparaiso, a UNESCO heritage site and former thriving port 2 hours west of Santiago. The quantity and arrangement of the electric wires were a stunning representation of the state of infrastructure in this historic city. And the murals were delightful. Can we get more murals in Seattle?
As Maiko mentioned in an earlier post, our friend Sole took us to some visit social housing constructed in the 1990s where we visited a non-profit and we spoke with one of the long term residents – VERY INTERESTING. Sole volunteered for this organization and lived there when she was a student.
The social housing in Quilicura is arranged in groups of 36 units. Each unit is about 300 square feet with a kitchen, bedroom, bath and living space. The first floor units expand the building to get larger floor area but effectively eliminate windows on two sides of the unit.
Thaisa and Sole discuss the differences between apartment blocks. All owner-occupied apartments are bought with vouchers provided by the Federal government. The neighbors’ units are not as nice – they haven’t put in gardens, paved their yard or installed high-quality fences. Note the barbed wire on the top of the fence. This neighborhood is considered dangerous at night.
Custom garden at Quilicura housing landing. This group of units is all owned by people who knew each other before. They have created a nice character and the place is well maintained.